First Drive: 2012 Toyota Yaris

The average Canadian does not need to be in Quebec in order to drive a Toyota Yaris. Still, there’s a 53.2% chance that, if you’re in said vehicle, any model year, you’re also in la belle province.

Case in point, I am indeed in Quebec as I write this, having spent the day behind the wheel of the new, 3rd-gen Yaris — Yarises, actually, three official 2012 models, hitting Canadian dealerships over the next two weeks. The aforementioned majority statistic addresses percentage Yaris sales since the sub-compact vehicle was released in this country exactly six years ago: 84,000 units sold to date, more than half of them in Quebec. (True enough: We see the previous gens frequently, everywhere, during our test drive.)

Quebec enjoys a love-love relationship with compact and sub-compact vehicles, particularly those manufactured by non-North American marques. This is to a certain degree due to Euro-inspired city planning; when it comes to European aesthetics, no other province or territory qualifies as even a distant second to Quebec. Particularly in Quebec City, a smaller vehicle with a tight turning radius — for the 2012 Yarises, a worthy-of-remark 4.7m — can make a large difference in the life of the urban commuter.

Toyota, clearly, is not a Euro manufacturer; more importantly, though, neither is it North American. Sub-compact R&D and production on this continent has lagged historically and, while there has been a significant amount of catch-up in the last few years, Quebecers have been dissatisfied with previous attempts to crank out essentially rebadged, and less-effective, imports. The cost of gas is also generally higher in this province than anywhere else in the country, and the taxation fairly heavy. So, simply put: Smaller, more affordable cars make sense across the board. And, franchement, Quebec offers up one very discerning demographic.

Still, as I zip down the tight, wending cobblestone streets of Old et très européen Quebec in the city-peppy 2012 Yaris Hatchback SE, I wonder, why should this pragmatism be unique to to one province? Obvious logic dictates that smaller vehicles with better fuel efficiency make sense in any, indeed every, contemporary Canadian urban environment.

Surprise, surprise, Toyota Canada’s marketing arm concurs: During a pre-drive PowerPoint presentation, our hosts state Toyota’s outright, if presumptuous, goal to be this country’s choice for smaller vehicles. Proof of intent: no fewer than ten sub-compact Toyota and Scion models available in this marketplace by the end of next year. That’s as much as the combined offerings of the primary sub-compact competition, Hyundai, Ford and GM.

The new Yaris accounts for three of those models. If affordability is the consumer’s goal, it will be admittedly impossible to not consider the 2012 Toyota Yaris Hatchback CE, whose price tag is $13,990 — hundreds of dollars less than the previous model year. (Note: The Yarises have all been repriced, and the customer’s wallet wins across the board.) The CE is a three-door, mind you, and it’s not quite as fuel-efficient as the five door SE, almost 19-grand tricked out, but it’s hard to fault the sticker.

The five-speed manual transmission Yarises yield an impressive, improved combined fuel efficiency of 6L/100 km. My street-serpentine and mostly fun drive comes courtesy of the decent-enough 106 hp, 1.5L 4-cylinder engine. That said, on the highway, roaming the outskirts of Quebec City, I often feel like shifting to sixth gear — alas, non-existent.

One of those moments of flat-footed temptation occurs as I blaze into the picturesque riverside town of Lévis, whereupon my Québécqois drive partner kindly counsels me to reduce speed dramatically, immediately, as this is the region’s speeding ticket capital. I happen to glance at the audio display and notice, I kid you not, that Tokyo Police Club’s “Breakneck Speed” is playing…on a USB playlist provided by Toyota.

Later, I pull out the external drive key from its sensibly placed glove-box port (I lean jazz more than Foo Fighters) and am delighted to stumble — fumble? — across an all-but secret compartment, tucked above and behind the box. While I have nothing to hide, still, it’s nice to know I could.

The new Yaris is full of such clever crannies. The cabin configuration is beyond-practical, right down to the cupholders now being better located (the previous gen’s in-dash, in-air cupholders were a colossal fail for me, aesthetically; then again, so was the previous gen’s dash, period.) I’m sure floor-level cupholders have nothing to do with the Yaris’s toutable, record lower centre of gravity, no matter how much coffee one consumes; then again, any incremental little thing that helps the handling…

Style is its own category, and the new Yaris impresses just enough. It’s obviously bigger and noticeably more spacious, though we’re only really talking handfuls of millimetres. The millimetres do add up, though, because storage space has increased by 25%. Seat length and height are, finally, comfortable and sufficient; much, much better than before. There are a class-leading nine airbags in these models (including the latest craze, driver’s knee). In point-by-point comparison to previous-gen Yarises, the new models have clearly upped the ante accross the board. Perhaps the greatest bragging point is that any version of the vehicle qualifies as a sub-compact but offers so much storage and comfortable (enough) seating space that it honestly, seriously, feels like a compact.

Over the next year, Toyota expects to move 7,000 units of the 2012 Yaris in Canada. There’s an associated, aggressive, bilingual marketing campaign, and we’re shown two sets of commercials, rough cut, during our morning briefing. EPIC — yes, in all caps — has become the new terminological branding badge for Yaris. EPIC…efficiency, safety, exterior, interior. Yawn, blather. But fair and fun enough: There’s more than a bit of youthful, intended, cheek here and, frankly, the ironic voice (probably) suits the younger target demographic, even while failing to impress a horde of jaded Canadian autojournalists. (Still: An implied hockey player in a commercial does not an inferred hockey player make. Now, an actual hockey stick to match the beyond-bulging demonstration equipment bags? Might have been a good idea, though it would have required a roof rack, for length alone.)

So, EPIC? You decide. Noteworthy, well-designed, better priced and usefully functional? Without doubt. Tomorrow, we will learn that the new branding term for Prius — technically, the 2012 Toyota Prius v — is “versatile.” Yes, all lower case. But that’s literally another story, and it’s one that you’ll also be able to read here shortly.

For the time being, if a sub-compact automotive deal is your goal, the 2012 Toyota Yaris is a mighty sensible choice. Really, you’d be hard-pressed trying to rationalize going your separate way from Quebec on this one.

2012 Toyota Yaris Hatchback
CE, $13,990
LE, $15,990
SE, $18,990

Image by Gary Butler; digital camera Olympus PEN E-PL2


8 thoughts on “First Drive: 2012 Toyota Yaris”

    • The sedan has not been changed but will still be available at a
      “repositioned” — corporate speak for lower — price. If you’re
      interested in getting one, wait until the price drop is official (some
      time in the next two weeks).

  1. This is a great move for the industry. Good to see compactness, safety, and fuel efficiency become the new standards and how Toyota states that is their goal to promote that in Canada. Wicked USB port too.

    • Thx YMMC, though to be clear, USB in glove box is nothing new to this industry (but, agreed, it’s nice to have that tucked away). My point about the glove box cleverness is that there is a hidden section BEHIND the glove box, intended for “secret” storage (though I suppose I’ve now given the secret away). I tried to photograph it but it made no visual sense. Or maybe, as a writer, I should stick to my dayjob…

  2. I test drove the Yaris a couple of years ago and it seemed chincy compared to Honda fit – it was smaller and the materials were very economy. It was disappointing; my girlfriend and I had had a used ’82 tercel that we got a real kick out of. Now that was a small car! It had exterior steel bodywork on the inside of the doors, like the Fiat 500. Anyway, sounds like the new Yaris might be worth another look. You sure get a heck of a lot in an economy car these days.

  3. Sounds pretty sweet. Does the thing have sway bars? Gotta have sway bars, ever since I rolled the Echo a couple of years back.

  4. what is the name of the song from the toyota yaris commercial featuring ‘Luke’ diriving in quebec???? anyone knows?

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